CFI Applauds High Court ruling in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez

June 28, 2010


The Center for Inquiry applauds today’s June 28, 2010    Supreme Court ruling that the University of California-Hastings law school can legally deny recognition to a Christian student group that violates the school’s non-discrimination policy by barring non-Christian and LGBT students from membership.  Five of the Court’s nine Justices upheld the lower court rulings that the Christian group’s First Amendment rights of association, free speech and free exercise were not violated by the college’s decision.

The case concerns a student chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS), which sued the school after being denied official recognition and funding because the student group violated the school’s non-discrimination policy. That policy requires that student groups must be open to all students in order to receive funding and official recognition. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled unanimously in 2009 against CLS because the school’s policy prohibited every student group, whether religious or secular, from excluding students that disagree with the group’s mission. For example, if the school’s Democratic club cannot access school funding while excluding Republicans from its membership, a conservative Christian group cannot demand funds while excluding gay, non-Christian, or non-conservative Christian students. CLS appealed, claiming that it had a constitutional right - not enjoyed by any secular organizations - to receive state funding while discriminating against students on the basis of religion and sexual orientation.

  Derek C. Araujo , director of CFI’s legal programs, called today’s decision “a victory for fairness and for equal treatment under the law.” He continued, “Religious student organizations should not be granted a special right to ignore non-discrimination policies that all other organizations must comply with.”

In March the Center for Inquiry   submitted an amicus brief to the High Court arguing that religious organizations do not have a constitutional right to special exemptions from generally applicable regulations, and that student groups in violation of the school’s policy therefore cannot demand public money and official recognition.

Ronald A. Lindsay, CFI’s president & CEO, said he was very pleased with the outcome, adding that “the Center for Inquiry has made a commitment to advocate vigorously for the constitutionally mandated separation of Church and State. This is the third Supreme Court case in which CFI has participated in the last year-and-a-half.”

Justices Ginsburg, Stevens, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kennedy agreed with CFI that the Christian Legal Society has no special right to access funds while violating UC-Hastings’ non-discrimination policy.  Four Justices—Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Scalia and Thomas—dissented.